Hearts signed off 2017 in style, embarking on a club-record run of six fixtures in…
When you look at the best signings by any Premiership club this season you’d have to say Kyle Lafferty and Christophe Berra are both up there. However, Hearts may have outdone themselves by securing the signature of Steven Naismith.
The Scotland International has signed on with the Tynecastle club until the end of the season and he could be just what the doctor ordered.
So where does Naismith fit into this Hearts team and just what is he capable of?
We delved into the numbers to find out.
The good news for Hearts is that the former Rangers man is versatile. Naismith is a useful player to have in that he can play as a striker, but is also effective as a winger and a number ten.
We previously mentioned how Hearts were in dire need of creative and attacking flair; they might have signed the ideal man. If Naismith hits the ground running and is able to produce the form many know he is capable of then Hearts could prove to be a formidable outfit.
After all, it’s been recently documented how solid Hearts’ defence is with both Craig Levein and Christophe Berra playing a key part.
Levein’s side have lined up with a variety of formations this season. Most recently they’ve switched between using 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-4-1. Were Hearts to go with the latter, Naismith provides a much more appealing option on the right-wing than the solid and evergreen Don Cowie.
Similarly, although it’s not his strongest position Naismith still has the legs at Premiership level to play as a lone striker. That’s not to say he’d be as effective as Lafferty, but the choice is still there for the manager.
Moreover, he’s also an option in the centre of the pitch if you were wanting a number 10 to burst from midfield to support the striker. Craig Levein knows the type of player Naismith is after working with him during his Scotland tenure. He’ll be aware that Naismith can play in centre midfield when necessary and will put in a good shift.
Hearts have a plethora of options when it comes to Naismith were they to line up with a 4-2-3-1. Simply put, their new signing could cause damage from any of the front four positions. As a number 10 Naismith could play directly behind the lone striker; arguably his best position. Alternatively he’s able to play on either side to give the team more width.
The 31-year-old isn’t an out-and out-striker who will bang in 25 goals a season, but he’ll grab his fair share. He’s a continuous attacking threat and is the type of player Hearts are screaming out for.
As you can see from the graph above Hearts are struggling when it comes to creating assists. The only club that have created less this season is Partick Thistle. It’s a frustrating read for Hearts fans as with their current squad they should be aiming to be matching Hibs, Motherwell and Hamilton’s level at the very least.
Naismith undoubtedly adds another outlet for assists. Without him you struggle to see where they would come from going forward. No Hearts player has provided more than two assists so far this season. The only club who find themselves in the same situation are Dundee.
Of course this would all be fine and well if Hearts had healthy stats and a nice even spread of assists throughout the team. However, as we’ve shown this is not the case.
Naismith won’t be the answer to all of Hearts problems, but he’ll certainly make a difference. The graph above highlights the average number of assists made by Hearts players this season. We’ve taken Naismith’s average from his 2010/11 season at Rangers as his last campaign was interrupted by a serious injury.
What’s evident is that Naismith’s numbers make for decent reading. Particularly when you look at Don Cowie for example. He has been solid on the wing for Hearts this season, but that’s not been enough. Swapping him with Naismith is just one option which could make a significant difference to Craig Levein’s side’s fortunes.
What’s apparent from the graph above is that Naismith’s arrival doesn’t mean Hearts have another out-and-out goalscorer like Lafferty . That said, he is arguably still as good as any back up option they have.
His minutes per goal is better than Hearts second top scorer this season; Isma. Of course you could argue that he’ll have had more opportunities in a Rangers side back in 2010/11 than this current Hearts team.
If Naismith is able to find his feet at Tynecastle we could see a resurgent Hearts in the second half of the season. With a strong defence and potentially bolstered attack, it’s an exciting time for the Gorgie faithful.